Screaming back: using Twitter for political satire
By TIERNAN JOHN KELLY
TWITTER has, since its creation, been seen by users as a method of creating a message without having it diluted by exterior forces, the use of Twitter during the 2007 election by Kevin Rudd played a vital role in the perception of the Labor party as fresh and relevant and ready for change.
However, while 2007 will always be remembered for the introduction of twitter into the Australian political sphere in which Labor used the new medium to scream messages at a fascinated audience, 2010 will be remembered as the year the audience screamed back. As in the earliest days of pamphlet journalism where a printing press meant media power, so now the power of broadband brings criticism from the public direct to politicians through satire.
“Remember to cock punch liberal booth drones. Don't worry, they need the practice,” belted out one twitter account claiming to be Julia Gillard.
At the same time a page purporting to be Tony Abbott page seemed somewhat dazed, “So sleep deprived think I voted for the Greens!”
The veil of anonymity that the internet provides has led to a growing trend by users on social media sites to set up satirical characters, mirroring the politicians that we know through fake accounts. It will be an increasing trend as the number of politicians with twitter accounts increases.
Before the last election a quarter of federal MPs had twitter accounts. Most had at least one fake account set up next to them. Some parliamentarians even had fake accounts dedicated to them without having an account themselves.
For example, the Prime Minister has one twitter account but there are 43 fake accounts dedicated to Julia Gillard including JuliaLizard, PMJuliasMum, gingerpm and FirstFemalePM.
One of these fake accounts called ‘Julia G. Gillard’ splashes pink flowery wallpaper over the account homepage, gives her current location as Wales and claims, “The beauty of representing atheist constituents is that they'll believe almost anything. As long as it sounds convincing of course…”
However, the Prime Minister isn’t the only target of these social satirists, one account dedicated to Queensland Senator Barnaby Joyce lampooned his mathematics skills, “By my calculations, the Coalition is eleven billion votes ahead.”
Another account dedicated to incoming Independent Andrew Wilkie ironically tweeted that the main proviso for Mr Wilkie’s support for either a Coalition or Labor government should be to, “Ban cruel Twitter parodies that hurt brittle feelings.”
Social media sites may not be the most articulate form of expression but they are the most immediate and, compared to traditional media, audience interaction can be far more accurate in their representations of popular opinion. An anonymous tweeter is more likely to give an honest opinion than a voter hunted down in their lunch break for a five second radio sound grab.
The demand for increased engagement in social media has also crossed rapidly into television with most networks now using tweets in their morning variety programs and news broadcasts. The ABC, in particular, has developed a variety of uses for twitter on its ABCNews24 channel and on the network’s flagship debate program Q&A. During a broadcast Q&A displays tweets below the main debate, questions can be submitted to panelists via twitter and guests will regularly tweet to let followers know when they will be appearing. In a recent article for the Brisbane Times Online, Q&A producer Peter McEvoy stated that twitter, “Provides an extra perspective on the conversation…it connects people to the program in a new and different way.”
However, even with an open attitude towards social media debate Q&A still operates to an editorial formula, with an estimated three to four tweets per second the content that appears on the panel at the bottom of your screen remains a shaped debate, formed by the restrictions of time and space from which traditional media forms congenitally suffer. In a recent move to modernise content ABCNews24 has also begun to use twitter to show an engagement in national debates from a variety of sources. However, this method that can sometimes backfire as Newsreader Joe O’Brien recently discovered on ABCNew24’s 1pm, 23rd August news bulletin.
“And we’re following your comments on twitter this one in from SquigglyFerret, Tony Abbott can’t form a minority government. He hates minorities.” Obviously uncomfortable, O’Brien continued bravely. However the sting of the comment was inescapable.
The manager of ABCNews24’s continuous news strategy, Tony Hill, stated that tweets will always go through an editorial check in order to present “a relevant or interesting point of view or one that adds context and contrast to the news coverage…not offensive or obviously untrue.”
On the obvious gaffe Mr Hill admitted that “better editorial judgement should have been used.”
Crikey’s Chief Political Correspondent Bernard Keane works within the confines of new media on Crikey's website and also has 5360 followers on twitter. Mr Keane is far more critical of the use of twitter claiming that most fake accounts add nothing national debate.
“99.9% of fake accounts are unfunny and don’t even offer the insight of good parody,” he said. However, Mr Keane also criticized the lack of engagement from politicians with the new social medium.
“Only Turnbull interacts with people and uses Twitter to its full capacity as a broadcast medium, interactive tool and means to enter a genuine participative debating space,” he said.
According Mr Keane the ‘intellectual common room’ that twitter can provide is best used by gravitating towards accounts that enhance personal experience, “identify the tweeters you think offer best value and follow them regardless of what issues they’re commenting on”.
Two weeks on, an election has been fought, votes counted and the continual flow of twitter updates from politicians and exterior parties pitching for votes has slowed to a trickle, a reflection perhaps of the real attitude towards social media from all sides. It remains to be seen if twitter has become effective as a media instrument or in fact if at the next election it will have any part to play because in the end while twitter may serve as a resource for conversation it means very little unless someone else is listening.